Book cover of "Memory's Last Breath" by Gerda Saunders

Frances H. Kakugawa
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Omoiyari . . . Think of others first and good karma will return to you. — Frances H. Kakugawa

Dear Readers: The following is an email exchange between Linda and myself. You might find her situation similar to something you have experienced or are currently experiencing.

Dear Frances,

Today my stepbrother called from Florida saying my dad has had another stroke and has not been eating much, just sleeping most of the time. The hospice doctor thinks he is in his final decline and probably won’t last more than a month. I want to be with him, but honestly don’t feel capable of making the trip right now because of these health issues. I feel really torn.


Dear Linda,

I’m so sorry to hear about your Dad.

Linda, see if you can flow with life’s mysterious currents. If you are not able to be with your dad because of your own health, can you maybe think of this as being orchestrated by a force beyond your control for a reason?

We live our lives making these kinds of plans for ourselves — we think we need to be near our parents when they die. Perhaps we need to tell ourselves a different story. Why must you be there? Your dad knows you love him, and you know he loves you. We create a lot of idealistic myths that cause us grief because, often, they do not deliver. We create these myths, not a higher power. Whatever we need to say to our loved ones is known to both of us.

It’s wonderful that you are in contact with your dad. Do you share your childhood memories of him with him?

There is nothing else for both of you to prove to each other. Light a candle for your dad, as I will for you. Write him a letter and have someone read it to him. Will your stepbrother do this for you?


Dear Frances,

Your words about my dad are very comforting and wise, Frances. I do write to him every week and his hospice nurse or volunteer reads it to him, and I will continue doing so. Yes, he knows I love him, so I needn’t see him again to tell him that — you’re right. I know I have a story in my head that says a good daughter must be with her dad when he dies and that other stories are valid. But I mostly just don’t want him to be alone. Jeff (my stepbrother) is there with him, so that is good. Maybe I’m just not ready to say that I’ve seen my dad for the last time, but it has to be faced and accepted at some point, so I will try.



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Frances Kakugawa was her mother’s primary caregiver during her five-year journey with Alzheimer’s disease. A native of Kapoho on Hawai‘i island, she now lives in Sacramento. Frances has melded her professional training as a writer and educator and her personal caregiving experiences to write several books on caring for people with memory-related illnesses. She is a sought-after speaker, both in Hawai‘i and on the Mainland, sharing strategies for caregiving, as well as coping with the stresses of caregiving.

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